Does Having Fat Friends Suck? Thanks For The Paranoia

There are some days when I really only want to hang out with fat people. This is why.

Mar 20, 2014 at 10:00am | Leave a comment

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Real glad Natalie and Claire weren't obsessed with eating punishment salad to make me feel better that day we all had lunch.

I started out writing an entirely different article here. I was upset about this article and I wanted to be real clear about why I thought the author, Angela Epstein's words were super damaging. I wrote about how I really did try to give her the benefit of the doubt with regards to intention -- but how I was failing pretty miserably because she spent 1,000 out of 1,300 words talking about how awful it was to have fat friends she had to be considerate of.

Then I went to dinner with Claire and Alison, who was in town for one night only, like a surprise club show by your favorite rock band.

On Tuesdays, in Orlando, we wear black. And, thus attired, the three of us went to this restaurant called Dragonfly -- they kind of serve tapas but it's all Japanese food so maybe they serve small plates? I don't know fancy restaurant terminology, y'all. 

Last year, I got to hang out with Claire and Natalie -- there was day drinking and so much food and then I fell asleep in the middle of an NFL game where they have a pirate ship that shoots cannons. It was a really fantastically good time, though I could feel Daisy being ashamed of me from a distance. (Sorry, Daisy!)

In my first version of this article, I talked about how sometimes I just really want to be around other fat people, where my body is not this big dramatic thing, where I don't have to worry about whether or not my thin dining companion is having loads of personal angst about how I must be comparing myself to them and feeling awful.

But I kept thinking about that day with Claire and Natalie and my then-upcoming dinner with Claire and Alison. And it was really hard to reconcile the fear that Angela's article engendered with how very pleased I was to know and share meals with these women. 

I really hate Angela's article, though I think it's meant to be a sort of fable, with a "get over yourself" moral to the story about how fat people don't need to be coddled. Her rhetorical device failed on every level with me because being fat so often means being judged and the last thing you really want to consider is that the people who are supposed to be your friends find you boring and awful to hang out with because they feel guilty about being thin around you. If you're a fat person reading Angela's article, I think it's reasonable to be a little afraid your own thin friends feel the same way.

Hello, new paranoia.

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I will eat dinner with these women any time.

But with the distance of a few days, what really stands out to me about the article is how very uncomfortable Angela felt to have to acknowledge that her fat friends have different experiences than she does. Most of her difficulty seems to spring from her just being really terrible at empathy. 

Perhaps she's not had to practice it very much.

(It's also worth noting -- Angela also seems to think all of her fat friends are dieting, which might very well be the case but her friend ordered cake so I don't know about that assumption on her part. I do know dieters -- who are generally thin already -- who wail about what their dining companions order. And THAT needs to stop regardless of size!)

There is, I have observed, a certain self-conscious anxiety that comes with learning to be aware that other people are not the same as you. And that seems to make some people respond really angrily -- with a lot of blustering about how we shouldn't have to blah blah blah and people should toughen up and lots of invocations of the PC Police alarm. This idea that we should be considerate of other people's needs seems like such a simple and basic way of making the world a better place, of reducing the harm and suffering in the world, but, damn, it gets people heated.

And I wonder how much of that is people like Angela, who are confronted with things they'd usually never consider. Who have to then make changes that require some effort. Who have no idea how exhausting it can be to navigate the world when you're a target in a way folks like Angela (who kept describing her own thinness in great detail) have never experienced.

I also understand -- because y'all have said this in comments -- that some people really genuinely have no idea how to act around their fat friends because they have no idea what might make fat people feel bad. And I know y'all aren't trying to hurt anyone's feelings.

This is what I would like to tell you, a little more nicely than Angela's friend finally laid into her with: It's not the existence of your thin body that makes fat people's lives harder. It's the assumptions and beliefs other people have about us. And when you assume that ordering a burger is going to make us upset, just because you are thin and eating a burger, you're replicating that same behavior -- you're making assumptions and making yourself miserable and ALSO making us miserable because you're unhappy and taking it out on us.

You're projecting your discomfort onto us and making us be the caretakers of your OKness. Which is quite a job when we already have to figure out how to deal with fat hate, poor health care based on fat hate, lower wages based on fat hate, and so on. 

Instead of winding yourself up about it, remember that we are your friends. We might not like going shopping with you -- because there's nothing for us to try on. We might not like going out to eat with you -- because when you order a salad in some kind of sympathetic gesture, we feel judged. We might, in fact, feel any number of things and they might all be different because we're all different people.

Since we're your friends, maybe you could talk to us about it. Or, you know, we could all just go to dinner and order what we want.

Claire ordered pigs ears. They were delicious.